Nanotechnology and its Impact on Construction

RT-251 Topic Summary
RT 251


Nanotechnology in construction is generally understood as the understanding and control of materials at the nanoscale and the improvements of fabrication processes, tools, and techniques for the production of bulk quantities. Huge benefits are predicted for nanotechnology applications of nano-modified or nano-products in construction that go beyond just the material sector. Even with minor improvements in the construction sector, sustainable design and production of materials and structures could lead to large accumulated benefits, such as lower use of raw materials, higher energy efficiency of buildings, and improved material properties that make structures stronger and adaptable to changes throughout their life-cycle. Nanotechnology opens up new visionary opportunities that may change traditional practices in the construction industry. Nanotechnology may lead to need-driven innovative processes that offer the construction industry technology to solve emerging societal needs.

This research study was performed to review the current nanotechnology programs and to identify three to five application areas that could benefit from a close collaboration between the engineering and construction industry and the research community. The aim of this study was to provide awareness of nanotechnology applications and products in construction. A review of various studies predict a largely unexplored potential of nanotechnology in construction, keeping in mind the prevailing risks and barriers.

Key Findings and Implementation Tools

1 : Nanotechnology Construction Applications

Projected growth rates and markets for nanotechnology products are high, justifying the need to take immediate actions to understand benefits, risks, and opportunities of nanotechnology in the construction industry. R&D in the broad area of construction lags considerably behind other industries. (RR251-11, p. 17)
Reference: (RR251-11)

2 : Development

Advancements in nano-manufacturing are expected to result in rapid development of new nano-materials. These manufacturing approaches fall under two categories "bottom-up" and "top-down." (RR251-11, p. 21)

  • "Bottom-up" approach – Materials ad devices are built from molecular components, which assemble themselves, chemically by principles of molecular recognition. This approach can be thought of as putting together single atoms or molecules until a desired level of complexity and functionality has been achieved in a device.
  • "Top-down" approach – Nano-objects are constructed from larger entities without atomic level control. This approach can be summarized as ‘a set of tools designed to build a small set of tools.
Reference: (RR251-11)

3 : Primary Materials

The primary materials in nanotechnology for construction can be identified as Titanium Oxide, Fullerenes, Carbon Nanotubes, Silica, Alumina, and others (e.g., Clay, Magnesium and Calcium Nano-particles, Aerogels). Each of these materials has various uses and applications in the construction industry. (RR251-11, p. 31)
Reference: (RR251-11)

4 : Applications

The nanotechnology application areas discussed (bulk materials, functional surfaces, composites, fire and safety, energy, water, electronics and computing, metrology and sensors) will have a significant impact on construction within the next 10-15 years. The areas and products where nanotechnology is expected to have the maximum impact were identified as: Composites, Coatings, Concrete, Energy and Sensors, and Metrology. Products in these nanotechnology disciplines are identified to have the biggest impact on construction. (RR251-11, p. 41)
Reference: (RR251-11)

5 : Research Scope

There is a disconnect between the construction industry and researchers/academics units that conduct nanotechnology R&D. Although products are now beginning to emerge on the markets, the lack of awareness of construction industry professionals asks for an industry wide approach for research and development, knowledge transfer, and exchange of information that can assist the entire industry. (RR251-11, p. 122)
Reference: (RR251-11)

6 : Benefits

Benefits that nanotechnology products will have on the construction industry include:

  1. Improved Mechanical and Physical Properties  to include higher strength materials, improved durability, wear and tear resistance, corrosion resistance, and improvements in fire resistance and aesthetics. (RR251-11, p. 98)
  2. Economical Benefits to include value chain of life cycles, lower labor costs and operating and maintenance costs, improved customer satisfaction, and increased market value and brand image. (RR251-11, p. 99)
  3. Sustainability Benefits to include energy efficiency, lower material consumption, social and ethical benefits, and an increase in innovation. (RR251-11, p. 100)
Reference: (RR251-11)

Key Performance Indicators

Improved cost, Reduced change, Improved operations & maintainability, Improved materials management

Research Publications

Nanotechnology and its Impact on Construction - RR251-11

Publication Date: 02/2009 Type: Research Report Pages: 131 Status: Reference